Sean Johnson is not to blame!
Despite the loss, Sean Johnson had himself a night against the Timbers. He totaled 7 saves, some of which were real beauties. Just ask Diego Valeri, who was robbed on multiple occasions, including a save of the year candidate.
Johnson has been great all season for NYCFC, and tonight was no different. He kept them in the game as they searched for that equalizer. And the one that got past him came off an awful giveaway by Andrea Pirlo, which quickly turned into numbers for Portland. The ball ended up on the foot of Valeri, who perfectly placed the shot into the side of the net, just past the outstretched hands of Johnson.
And you know? He almost got there, too.
Johnson's breakout season continues, and he is a pivotal player moving forward. If New York City want to make noise in the playoffs, he is going to have to continue his quality play.
NYCFC don't have a backup striker
David Villa was sorely missed tonight. These last two matches without him have shown one glaring weakness on the squad: no backup striker. Villa is relentless up front and his ability to pressure a team's back line, whether attacking or closing down on the defense, is irreplaceable.
In the two games without their captain, NYC have mustered only 1 goal. They have had plenty of possession in the final third and a plethora of quality chances, but have lacked a true sense of direction.
Villa is a surprisingly effective hold-up player in MLS, and has managed to set up a lot with his back to goal. Without him as an outlet for the midfielders, NYC has looked lost at times, struggling to find that incisive pass. With Villa on the pitch, he is constantly around the ball creating havoc, allowing other players more space to create.
I love Jack Harrison, but he's no number nine. And Sean Okoli was subbed in late, who just doesn't do it for me at any time. Hopefully Villa returns to action next weekend for New York City. Otherwise, we could see another sloppy display on offense.
Despite loss, depth still front and center
Look, there is no replacing the best player in the league. I get it. But despite not having a great replacement for Villa, NYC have filled in holes everywhere else. So, despite this loss, there are still a lot of positives to note. With this win, Portland moved into first in the West and New York City took them on with 8 guys injured, many of them consistent starters, including Maxime Chanot, Alex Ring, Yangel Herrera, and Ronald Matarrita.
Yes, I know, Matarrita has been out for what seems like ages, but in his absence Ben Sweat has emerged. Every game, Sweat makes a difference. He is great at pushing the ball up field and has shown a solid ability to place accurate balls in the box. Oh, and he can score a bit, too. I am a fan. Also missing on defense is the stalwart Chanot, who has been unavailable for a while now. In his place is Frederic Brillant. Last season, he was a disaster. This season, however, a different story. At 6-foot-3, he is a big guy who wins duels and is a threat on corners, witnessed tonight as he had a great header which forced a great save by Timbers keeper Jeff Attinella.
Then there is the midfield, still missing Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring (who, by the way, scored a ridiculous free kick goal for Finland over the international break). Both players are bruising midfielders who dictate a lot of the tempo for NYC and also provide Maxi Moralez with the time and space to pull those strings on offense. But stepping in their place tonight were Andrea Pirlo and Tommy McNamara. Pirlo did have that egregious turnover, but the fact that he is coming off the bench shows you that there is quality on this team in front of him. And McNamara might be better served playing out wide, but he did a solid job shoring up the midfield for the most part. So, sure, a tough loss, but healthy bodies should be reappearing soon.
You could slot this takeaway under “NYCFC don’t have a backup striker,” but Khiry Shelton was so underwhelming tonight he deserved his own item. He somehow lasted the full 90 minutes, but I am chalking that up to the fact that New York City were trailing and needed to keep as many attacking players on the field as possible. We can thank the short bench for suffering through an hour and a half of indecisiveness and lack of awareness. The worst came when a ball on a corner caught him unaware and ricocheted off his leg and out for a goal kick. I am not even asking for solid contact here, just the simple awareness to play a ball that could have possibly led to a better chance. He continues to be a huge disappointment for this club.
Thankfully, Jonathan Lewis does appear to be dynamite.